An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church



A heretical teaching about the person of Christ which holds that Christ, the divine Word, only seemed to assume the flesh of Jesus. The term is from the Greek dokein, "to seem." Jesus' life, suffering, death, and bodily resurrection were considered unreal. It thus undermines belief in the reality of the Incarnation as a doctrine of Christian faith. The roots of docetism lie in the pervasive Greek understanding of matter as evil and of God as incapable of suffering or "impassive." 
As early as the mid-second century, Justin Martyr identified "some who declare that Jesus Christ did not come in flesh but only as spirit." Serapion of Antioch first called such teachers "docetists" about 200 A.D. Other opponents of Docetism included Polycarp, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. Docetism was contradicted by the Council of Chalcedon (451). 
Any extreme emphasis on the divinity of Christ at the expense of his humanity has docetic implications. Docetism continues to be a temptation to those who idealize the figure of Jesus. It was found in Gnosticism, and it has reappeared from time to time in the history of the church. See Chalcedonian Definition; see Eutychianism; see Gnosticism. 

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.